I am pleased to welcome a special guest to Great War 100 Reads today. Louise Miller, author of A Fine Brother: The Life of Captain Flora Sandes, has kindly agreed to chat about her work.
What first interested you in Flora Sandes?
Louise Miller: I stumbled across Flora’s name purely by accident. I had an interest in the First World War for years and read extensively on military history. Nothing I saw had divested me of the impression that all the significant roles had been filled by men. I assumed that women had only played a peripheral and not terribly interesting part, doing things like “keeping the home fires burning”, stuffing shells and doing traditional “women’s” work like nursing. Then I read a passing reference in a newspaper to a British woman who had fought in the war and I had one of these thunderstruck moments where I knew almost instantly that this would be a turning point for me. It look some time but via Google searches I found out that the woman was Flora. And through my research into Flora’s life, I began to read about all the Allied women who had worked in Serbia & the Balkans during WW1. I also realised that much of what I had thought about the work and role of women during the war was shamefully wrong. Continue reading →
The First World War held out the prospect of great adventure abroad for thousands more British women who were keen to “do their bit” for a suitably patriotic cause, just like their brothers. It provided them a chance for them to live and travel independently and work in fields that had hitherto been restricted to men, while its fluid circumstances gave unheard-of opportunities to women with courage and initiative. … Paradoxically, [the British, French and Belgian] desire to “protect” women who did not want to be protected meant that many ended up working in some of the most dangerous sectors of the war. Many would pay with their lives, among them twenty-one British women in Serbia alone. (p 37)
Flora Sandes was a fine brother, the only British woman to officially serve as a soldier in WW1. Louise Miller does a fine job of telling her story.
Flora “was the epitome of the independent, forthright and determined ‘new woman’, with an interest in fast cars, gruelling physical challenges and, above all, travel.” (p 17) She had a comfortable upbringing (her father was a pastor). “By the time she reached adulthood, Flora showed scant desire to lead the respectable and leisured life that was expected of a woman of her background.” (p 29) Continue reading →